Recent Rains Bring Blessings to Canyon Streams of the Angeles National Forest

Posted on March 5, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Last weekend’s double storm system brought much needed moisture to the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  The San Gabriel mountains, along with most of Southern California, received a brief reprieve from the lengthy drought.  Multitudes of canyons received enough rain (little snow) to thoroughly scour out the stream beds.  The black organic mat which had affixed itself to all the rocky and sandy bottoms of streams and pools the last couple of years was washed away in just a few days.

White and tan sands have once again come into view.  Pools that had decreased in depth have deepened.  This is good news, not only from the standpoint of esthetics, but for wildlife.  Fish and other creatures will benefit from this natural cleansing.  Spawning will now become possible.  Water temperatures will decrease and available oxygen will increase.  This change is good for everyone.

Our rain gauge near Fern Lodge Junction, not far from Chantry Flats, received over 7.36″ of combined rain from the two storms.  The sounds of a tumbling mountain stream have returned and the myriad of organic scents are throughout the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creeks.  Especially noticeable is the staccato call of the Canyon Wren, with the descending notes reminiscent of laughter followed by a quick little question….   The dust is gone for now and everything gleams clean and green.  

The attached photo was taken last Sunday just above Sturtevant Falls on the Upper Falls Trail.  Notice that the water has been colored by the tannins of fallen leaves and abundant organics from the mountain soils.  A hopeful big leaf canyon maple puts out her fresh leaves and catkins.

Polypody Fern Beds Are Prevalent & Lush In The Front Country Canyons of Mount Wilson

Posted on February 7, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Despite the lack of rain and snow as of early February, the shady north-facing  canyon slopes of the Mt. Wilson area still appear damp and green.  Regardless of the steepness of the mountainsides, if there’s enough shade and crevices in the rocks to set roots, then it’s likely you’ll happen upon some fern beds. These nearly vertical meadows of ferny green are native to the southern california coastal and inland mountains.   By summer when the rains are long over and the temperatures climb, California polypody  (Polypodium californicum) withers to dry, light brown stalks that would give little clue to their winter time fullness.

Polypody fern bed on damp slope in East Fork of Big Santa Anita Canyon. It just takes a little rain to bring these ferns back!
A wooden footbridge graces the tumbling waters of the Big Santa Anita Creek at Fern Lodge junction. This photo, taken during the Great Hiking Era, quite likely dates back to the teens or early 1920’s.

So, watch for this beautiful, native perennial on your next hike out of Chantry Flats or any of the front country trailheads.  Both of these photos were taken in the Fern Lodge area of Big Santa Anita Canyon, about 1 1/2 miles in from the Chantry Flats trailhead.  Fern Lodge was once a thriving mountain resort during the “Great Hiking Era.”  True to its’ name, ferns of several varieties still abound.  Today, there is still a beautiful little community of private cabins here, set among the wooded stream side ledges.  Many hikers know this area also as the place where the Upper Falls and Gabrielino trails meet at Fern Lodge Junction.

A Great Gift Idea For Your Chantry Flats Hiker!

Posted on December 8, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten
An early spring time view looking downstream near First Water in the Big Santa Anita Canyon.

The best gifts often come in small packages.   Big Santa Anita Canyon Trails Map makes a good stocking stuffer for just about anyone that’s exploring the trails that radiate out from Chantry Flats.  Opened up, it measures 15″x22″, provides an uncluttered image of the trails, junctions and points of interest.  Folded, it’s only 5 1/2″ x 7 1/2″, so will slip easily into your pack.  Use this map along with the free “Hikes” page located on the CanyonCartography.com website.  Directions, mileages between points, photos and elevation gain / loss profiles from the Hikes Page will dovetail perfectly with the map.  This is the gift of outdoor experience.  The Big Santa Anita Canyon Trails Map sells for less than $5.00 and comes with FREE SHIPPING!      

November is the Month to See Autumn Splendor While Hiking at Chantry Flats

Posted on November 23, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

This picture was taken while crossing Big Santa Anita’s creek in the Fern Lodge area, about a mile and a half in from Chantry Flats.  It was dusk when I looked down and saw this partially submerged collage of maple and alder leaves which seemed to radiate their own light back up to me.  While very little rain has fallen in the last two years in Southern California, the streams in the front country of the San Gabriels continue to display an annual phenomenon that is often not perceived upon first glance.  The water level actually begins to come back up a little bit as the deciduous trees drop their leaves.  Sturtevant Falls seems to be flowing with a little more gusto the last couple of weeks.  Hundreds of stream-side trees have began to use less water for metabolic processes as they go into their season of dormancy.  Once the leaves have fallen, transpiration (leaf respiration) becomes just about nonexistent, leaving more surface water in the streams.  No rain is required to bring the stream level up a bit,  just the advance of autumn!

The deciduous trees in the Big Santa Anita Canyon are primarily Big Leaf Canyon Maples and White Alders, which can be seen all along the streams, gracing the canyon with their intermingling shades of green and coolness.  By late November, early December, most of the leaves have fallen.  The dark to light gray maple trunks still gently reach out and up with their bare limbs, surrounded by open light, while the alders’ straight and narrow trunks reach way up for what little light they’ll receive during these shortening days of early winter.  In fact, late in the day as you’re hiking along streams, the light colored alder trunks seem to linger the longest before finally fading into the darkening background of the canyon bottom.

Soon the much awaited rains and snows will make their arrival, fixing all the fallen leaves onto the damp ground in an earthy mosaic.  The scent of decomposing organics making new soil will be sweet and clean, somehow waking and energizing  something  deep in all of us.  Just maybe Mt. Wilson isn’t so far to go after all …

Big Santa Anita Canyon Crank Telephone System

Posted on August 16, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

The Big Santa Anita Canyon crank telephone system is coming back to life!  While hiking or biking the Chantry Flats hiking trails, you’ll see the old wooden call boxes in various places such as Fern Lodge Junction, located near Sturtevant Falls.  There’s a working crank telephone in each of the nine boxes.  Earlier this year, I was invited by the Permittees Association to provide a survey of the existing phone system that had been in disrepair for several years. Following the survey, I estimated what it would cost to bring it back to full operation.

The line puller securely pulls the two ends of the phone line together before splicing.

The decision was made for me to give it a try. So, back in April, the rebuilding began by driving a single 8 foot long ground rod at call box #1 down at First Water, below Roberts’ Camp. Since then, each week I spend a day re-connecting broken stretches of phone line, reattaching insulators to tree trunks, re-establishing grounding and basically getting the line back up off the earth and plants. Everything goes back to nature, especially six miles of wire under a forest canopy.

A description of the phone system, its’ origin and how it works can be found on a previous blog of mine, “What’s That Copper Wire? Chantry Flats’ Crank Telephone System” – dated Sept.14, 2012, page 2 on this website. Much of the work that’s been accomplished so far has been getting the phones working between the Pack Station at Chantry Flats down through First Water and then up canyon to Sturtevant’s Camp. Also, repairing the line up through the Winter Creek to its’ terminus just upstream from Hoegees’ Campground. A number of private cabins and public call boxes are now connected to the phone system as well.

Re splicing the phone line using a line puller.

These accompanying photos show in detail how the phone line is connected using sleeves and a crimper, as well as how to hold two pieces of wire together using a line puller. You’ll notice that there’s only one wire here. The return wire is the old earth herself. So, each phone location must be grounded for the circuit to be complete.

Crimping a splicing sleeve.

The way to get up to the wire is to either make a cut where you can reach it from the ground, removing its’ tension and letting it lower down through the split ceramic insulators, or to climb up a tree or pole using an extension ladder. I often carry an extension ladder when out working on the line. On one level it’s a bit cumbersome, yet it’s easier on the tree than using climbing spikes. Also, I make a point to remove wire that’s been wrapped around tree trunks for attaching insulators, thus liberating them from this stranglehold. Small eyebolts are used instead of wire, allowing the tree to grow as she will.

Next time you’re out and about in either the Winter Creek or the Big Santa Anita Canyon, see if you can find the blue-green copper wire running from tree to tree. If you should encounter an emergency, i.e. medical, fire or someone’s lost, use one of the nine call boxes located along the trails. The directions on how to use these crank telephones can be found on the inside of each call box. You never know who you might just be helping.

Warmer Days Bring Out The Creatures Here In the Big Santa Anita Canyon

Posted on May 24, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten
This juvenile rattlesnake has just settled into digesting her meal. Notice how the camouflage blends with the fallen oak leaves.
This western fence lizard suns himself on a warm rock near Slider Rock, Big Santa Anita Canyon
A young gopher snake exploring on freshly raked sand at cabin #63, Fern Lodge in Big Santa Anita Canyon.

All of the front country of the San Gabriels are warming up, especially here along the Chantry Flats Trails.    Days are lengthening, grasses are drying out, stream flows are lessening and the lizards and snakes are on the rise!  There’s so much to see.  And to smell…. The fragrance of last year’s decaying leaves in the loamy stream bed’s sands is at times pungent  or mildly in the back ground of your senses.  This “signature” scent is throughout all the deep, steep canyons of our range.   Anywhere you’re in the Angeles National Forest, perhaps on a waterfall hike, organic reminders of our earthy platform that all life springs from.   White alders are fully leafed out, their canopies swaying lazily back and forth in the breezes of warmer days.  Bright greens of leaves and blue sky mingle together above us as the old earth tips more and more northward with the promise of longer days.

At our feet, creatures are wide awake and stirring about.  The lack of winter rains has in some way been a catalyst for our Spring season changing to Summer in a few short weeks.  Take time to look down at this miracle all around our feet.  Snakes and lizards make good use of camouflage to blend in with their native surroundings, so take your time and be still. The top image of the rattlesnake was taken after I almost stepped right on it by accident while alongside a cabin just below Sturtevant Falls.  You can see how well it blends in with the fallen oak leaves.  The lizard image was taken on the side of a cabin wall near the East Fork of Big Santa Anita Canyon.
These insect eaters are agile climbers on the textured rock surfaces.  The bottom image is of a mature gopher snake that has just recently shed its’ skin.  These non-venemous snakes are often incorrectly identified as rattlesnakes.  Gopher snakes constrict their prey, which consists primarily of mice and other small rodents.  While out hiking, stop once in awhile to look and listen to all the small miracles happening all around you.  You’ll be glad you did.

Relocating Rattlesnakes in Big Santa Anita Canyon

Posted on April 25, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

Two Southern Pacific diamondback rattlesnakes await relocation in a Rubbermaid 20 gal. size barrel, just for this purpose.

Always use care when relocating rattlesnakes in Big Santa Anita Canyon.  Everything’s blooming right now in the front country of the Angeles National Forest.   Hikers make their way up the Gabrielino Trail to the cool, moist beauty of Sturtevant Falls.  Colors are vibrant, sweet floral scents waft in the canyon breezes and the streams are as full as they’ll be until next winter’s rains.  This last weekend my wife and I were at our little cabin in the Big Santa Anita with all the windows open and the sound of bird song carrying throughout.  While raking, Joanie noticed the tail of a mature rattlesnake sliding underneath the low shutter of an enclosure attached to our toolshed.  I grabbed my snake stick (garden hoe minus the blade) and relocation barrel (20 gal. Rubbermaid trash can) for the task at hand.

Very carefully, I lifted the shutter to find a very healthy and cautious rattler looking back at me from the shadows.  Its’ neck and head were lifted in the manner of a cobra.  While prodding the snake with the stick, I mentioned to Joanie the possibility of two being present.  Up at Sturtevant Camp, we had once caught two snakes within a short distance of one another on a warm summer day.  One large female was in my wife’s flower garden and the other near the Ranger Cabin.

Sure enough, there was another snake!  This rattler was more slender and challenging to capture.  The larger one was easy to catch.  You just have to get her to drape across the metal hook at the end of the wooden handle.  Once that’s accomplished, just lift the serpent up and over the wall of the barrel, making sure to gently set down.  Next, we added the smaller partner.  The two immediately began to snap at one another!  Very unlike the behavior of the earlier Sturtevant pairing.    The larger, darker and stouter partner would occasionally utter a low and irritated “hiss……”  at the other.  Suddenly their bodies would slap up hard against each other.  Certainly, it was time to release them to the unconfined wilds of the Big Santa Anita Canyon’s East Fork, away from all human habitat.

The snakes continued to rattle inside the barrel which was held snugly up to my back as we hiked up the quiet side canyon.  The rattling sounds a bit like a snare drum that never stops.  When we reached the spot of disembarking, it was just a matter of carefully removing the lid and turning the barrel on its’ side as  sliding snakes made their way down the wall to the earth.  Both snakes were worn out and just lay side by side very peacefully.  We watched down as warm spring light spilled down on both these fascinating and terribly misunderstood creatures.  The larger snake had a crimson dot, perhaps from a nip, on her snout.

So, keep your eyes and ears open for rattlesnakes, especially as the temps rise and the days lengthen.  Rattlesnakes, like all snakes, are solitary and reclusive creatures.  If you should happen upon one while out on a hike, just give it distance and a way out.  Let it live in peaceful solitude.  They belong, too, in this vast and varied universe of life.

An Industrious Little Dark-Eyed Junco… Spring Nest Building is Happening in the Big Santa Anita Canyon

Posted on April 17, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten
A dark-eyed junco gathering nesting materials. Fern Lodge, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

I took this picture of a Dark-eyed Junco a few days ago in the Fern Lodge area.  Just a half mile downstream from Sturtevant Falls, this little female was collecting dried grasses for her nest.  The Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek canyons are filled with bird song from many species of birds.  The habitat where this picture was taken is riparian/woodland, a land of rushing streams, boulders and trees. Perfect for supporting lots of life!

Big Leaf Canyon Maples & Baby Blue Eyes Abound on the Chantry Flats Trails

Posted on March 22, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

While out hiking this week, check out the newly opening leaves and flowers of the maples along side the stream side  trails that radiate out of Chantry Flats.  If you’re contemplating hiking up to one of L.A. County’s waterfalls, Sturtevant Falls is at its’ peak flow as of this writing.  A new season’s canopy of North America’s largest maple leaves are on their way.  In the open spaces of gentle sunlight and shade, look for freshly blossoming baby blue eyes.   These delicate, low flowers seem to signify the Easter season in the front country of the San Gabriel mountains.

New life emerges on this Big Leaf Canyon maple. Photo taken just upstream from Sturtevant Falls.

Maples (Acer macrophyllum), in particular, grace both the Winter Creek and Big Santa Anita Canyons.

The spans of their canopies can be vast, supported by large arching limbs.  Limbs covered with emerald green mosses that come alive after rain storms.  Our maples have at times been referred to as “water maples,”  especially back during the Great Hiking Era.  Charles Francis Saunders, in his classic “The Southern Sierra,”  written back in the 1920′s describes these elegant trees in this manner.  The times change, yet the plants and their capacity to evoke mood in us does not.  Maples and alders, together, create a mixed green canopy to shelter the canyon bottoms from the severe sunny heat of summer days.  The light under maples can take on a thick, translucent green / gold magic on late summer afternoons.   In the fall, their yellow and gold leaves seem to radiate their own light against the grays and dark greens of deep canyons.   In the summer time, when their sap runs, look for the dark and moist liquid seeping through openings in the bark and depositing in pockets at the base of some of the more mature trees.  Wikipedia makes mention that maple syrup can be created by our species here in the San Gabriel mountains.  Its’, flavor differing a bit from the traditional maple species of the northeastern U.S.  I have known no one who has actually cooked down the sap from these lovely trees and made it into syrup.  It takes approximately 35 gallons of sap to make one gallon of finished product!   When Joanie & I used to run Sturtevant’s Camp, we’d notice that the mules would nibble at the bark of the maples in the corral area while waiting for their return run back to Chantry Flats.   The fallen leaves were also a delicacy to our long-eared friends.

Baby Blue Eyes along the Gabrielino Trail.

Baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii)  are beginning to poke their little heads up through glades of miners’ lettuce and chick weed.   They’re visible along many places on the trail between Chantry Flats and Sturtevant’s Camp.  Of course, if you go up to Newcomb Pass, you’ll see them along the slopes taking in the mild spring sunshine.  They add the most beautiful dots of blue amongst the backgrounds of entangled greenery.  These delicate little flowers will blossom up through May and can sometimes be seen as late as June in protected, semi-shade along canyon bottoms.